On metro, heroines of female workforce
Thursday, November 25, 2010; 9:51 PM
They are called the "enforcers," armies of female officers in starched blue uniforms who kick men out of metro cars reserved for women.
Chubby and wearing oversize glasses, Hema Rani, 44, spotted a group of men pushing onto a women-only car. She plowed through the rush-hour crowd, her finger punching the air as she yelled, "No men. Go! Women-only here."
She flashed a crooked grin when the offending men - red-eyed government workers, shaggy-haired college students and a mortified-looking Buddhist monk twirling prayer beads - squeezed into an adjacent car.
"I'm the mother of two sons, and they may not like it, but they have to listen to me, too," she said, as the female riders roared with laughter. Rani said she fines 20 to 25 men each day on the capital's new metro system.
The enforcers have become unlikely heroines of India's female workforce, one of the largest in the world thanks in part to the country's booming technology and corporate sectors. The enforcers are helping women here travel to work safely and in comfort by making sure the first coach of every train is reserved for them.
New Delhi's metro has received complaints from "women from all walks of life who said the coaches were too overcrowded and men were shoving them on their ride to work," said Anuj Dayal, a spokesman for the system, which transports 1.6 million riders a day.
In response, officials decided to test the women-only cars, similar to those in Mumbai, the country's financial capital. Several other countries, including Japan, also have subway cars reserved for women.
Officials recruited more than 100 enforcers, whose job interviews included questions about how they would tell men that they were breaking the law. Many of the enforcers used to work as security officers on India's railways, others were housewives. Most come from middle-class or rural backgrounds.
Large pink stickers on the platform indicate the cars for "women only." Women can also ride in mixed cars. The arrangement has been so popular that more women-only cars might be added, Dayal said.
At first, there were no fines, but so many men were breaking the rules and stowing away in the women's car that the Delhi metro system announced fines of 200 rupees, or $4, per offense, a hefty penalty here, Dayal said.
Indian men are used to getting preferential treatment in the workplace and at home. In many families, sons are still prized over daughters, and rural women are far less educated than men.
Young urban women say they battle daily discrimination and harassment, including what is known in South Asia as "Eve teasing," or leering or grabbing. Although many women hold high-ranking political positions, Indian women still struggle for dignity in daily life.